In Delaware, segregation extended to the grave. Many white cemeteries did not serve blacks or restricted black burials to separate sections. As black churches developed so did black cemeteries. The earliest known African American burial ground in Delaware was the churchyard of Mother African Union Church on French Street in Wilmington. Since then, at least 60 black cemeteries have been established, most of them associated with churches. They offered a place where African Americans knew they would be treated with respect, dignity, and comfort.  Patterns of segregation in burial practices began to end in the late 1960s.


Israel ME Church, near Lewes

Israel ME Church,
near Lewes,
Ca. late 1930s-early 1940s
Zebley Collection,
Delaware Historical Society


Israel’s history dates to at least the early 1850s. The oldest stone in the graveyard is from 1854. The church shown here was built in 1916. The church and cemetery are both still active.

Program, Michael Sterling's Funeral

Program from Michael Sterling's Funeral,
Bethel A.M.E. Church, Wilmington
February 2, 1922
Delaware Historical Society Collection



25th Annual Women's Day, Eighth Street Baptist Church, 1940

Tombstone of Michael Sterling,
Mount Olive Cemetery,



Michael Sterling’s funeral at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Wilmington, featuring ten ministers and two bishops, received extensive coverage in the Wilmington newspapers. Sterling served as a soloist, organist, and choir director at Bethel, in addition to other church activities. His talent and passion for sacred music, combined with his character and integrity, earned him great respect in the community. The Wilmington Musical Association, an organization of choirs from all of the African American churches, provided his tombstone, which reads as follows:

Israel’s Musician
M.T. Sterling
Feb. 15, 1859
Jan. 29, 1922

Founder of
Wilmington Musical

Erected by W.M.A.


Tombstone of Rev. Henry J. Marshall

Anna G. Marshall Tombstone

Tombstones of Rev. Henry J. Marshall
and Anna G. Marshall
1935, 1939
Courtesy of Charles Marshall, Sr.



Rev. Henry J. Marshall, founding pastor of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Dover, purchased land for Lakeview Cemetery so that blacks could have their own graveyard.  He and his wife were buried there in 1935 and 1939, respectively. Unfortunately, their tombstones were vandalized and removed from their proper location. In winter 2013, when DelDOT was doing repair work under a bridge near Kenton, the tombstones were found and recovered. A new marker has been placed in Lakeview Cemetery, while the original tombstones have begun a new life as a means of education and memory.  

Rev. Henry J. Marshall

Rev. Henry J. Marshall
Courtesy of the Marshall family

Rev. Henry J. Marshall (1865 -1935), a native of Virginia, founded Union Missionary Baptist Church in Dover, first known as “The Little Mission,” in 1902. Fully aware of the needs of his people in a segregated society, Rev. Marshall provided more than spiritual leadership. He allowed pregnant women and their midwives to deliver their babies at the church, since the hospital was segregated. He also purchased the land for Lakeview Cemetery. In 1921, during a typhoid epidemic, Rev. Marshall spoke to the Dover city council about the need for better water and sewer systems. He led Union Church until his death.

Union Missionary Baptist Church, Dover_1

Union Missionary Baptist Church, Dover_2

Union Missionary Baptist Church, Dover_3

Union Missionary
Baptist Church, Dover
Ca. late 1930s-early 1940s
Zebley Collection,
Delaware Historical Society







Earl Ford to Reverend Henry Herndon
April 22, 1967
Bill Frank Papers,
Delaware Historical Society


Ford Funeral Home_1 Ford Funeral Home_2




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